REVIEW: Six More Scary Tales (Clock Productions)

  
  

Spookiness and slapstick give play unexpected charm

  
  

Donaldson, Ryan Huges and Mark Dodge as The Gentlemen Suitors and Jessamyn Fitzpartrick as Madelene , Photo by D. Denman

  
Clock Productions presents
  
Six More Scary Tales
   
Written by David Denman
Directed by
Jesse Stratton and Mark Dodge
at
National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
through Feb 26  |  tickets: $15 (call 773-327-7077 for tix) 

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Although it’s more than nine months until Halloween, you can still get into the spooky spirit with Clock ProductionsSix More Scary Tales, the second play in the “Scary Tales” series. Written and produced by David Denman, the play is composed of six vignettes, each a cross between a campfire story, a morality play and a comical farce. The blend of genres usually works, though at times the cheese factor can be off-putting. But, overall, the six pieces come together to create a reasonably entertaining whole.

The play opens with "A Tale of Super Powers." The extremely short piece, which comes off more as a clunky sketch, is about a mugging victim who claims to have super strength, speed and imperviousness to bullets. There really is no fear factor in the short at all. It’s strictly a comedy, and a rather poor comedy at that. It certainly didn’t set the right tone for the pieces that would come, but fortunately it ended up being the weakest link of all the stories.

Derek J. Elstra as Kent and Linsey Falls, Photo by D. DenmanThe next story is "A Tale of Curiosity." It’s that often told tale about the woman with the choker around her neck, the one that she refuses to remove—ever. Of course, when the man of her dreams finally convinces her to remove it, he gets a shocking surprise. Although stronger than the previous piece, this tale also is weak. The story alone is trite. I’ve probably read it more than half a dozen times in various scary story collections. There is nothing added to the plot to give it a twist. The only redeeming quality is how laughably hokey it is when [spoiler alert?] the woman’s head pops off.

It is here at the third story where Six More Scary Tales finally begins to deliver. "A Tale of Avarice" tells the story of an Arabian man who is tempted to enter the harsh desert by a stranger who promises him great wealth. Eventually the man encounters three bewitching women who magically replace his tongue with an evil doppleganger. The result is a comic tragedy that works theatrically on a number of levels. The story is compelling, the acting is decent and the blend of spooky and silly is a good balance.

"A Tale of Morality" is next, and the only short to elicit applause at the end. Actress Andrea Young steals the piece (if not the whole production) with her portrayal of Death as a godfather-like figure imbued with genuine maternity. The story is about a young Sicilian man who is taken up as the godson of Death. With such a benefactor, he grows up to become a successful doctor. However, things get a little tricky when he must choose to either honor his supernatural godmother or save the woman he loves.

"A Tale of Vampires" is a predictable piece that works only because of how it pokes fun at the lack of American worldliness. Three American girls ride a train through Romania and Hungry while reading a book on the region’s history, which includes vampire folklore. Two strange locals board the train as well, and, as you’d imagine, suspicions rise. Although it doesn’t have the story of "A Tale of Avarice" or the heart of "A Tale of Morality," it’s still an entertaining segment.

Finally, the play ends on "A Tale of Monsters in the Attic," a piece that is introduced early in the production and resolved at the end. It’s a pretty traditional tale about a mad scientist, an attic and, of course, monsters.

Although spotty throughout, there’s real heart to this small production. That heart shines through, almost making up for the faults of the play. Still, some of the faults, especially those committed early on, weigh the entire piece down. My advice: Skip the first 10 minutes, and you’ll enjoy Six More Scary Tales.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Six Scary Tales - Clock Productions - by David Denman

REVIEW: The Dining Room (Appetite Theatre)

     
     

Shared setting not enough to unify disconnected scenes

      
     

The Dining Room 3

   
 Appetite Theatre Company presents
   
The Dining Room
   
Written by A. R. Gurney
Directed by
Basia Kapolka
at
Charnel House, 3421 W. Fullerton (map)
through Nov. 20  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Their dining room’s a place where children celebrate birthdays, wives work on dissertations, and matrons fuss over fingerbowls. Through a series of short vignettes, A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room chronicles generations of WASP history through social interactions in the dining room, creating a portrait of privileged America over the course of the 20th-century. Six actors play a large cast of characters, and are required to change age, status, and dialect depending on the scene – yet bizarre creative choices detract from the actual events on stage.

From the very start of the show it’s unclear what tone director Basia Kapolka is trying to capture. A creepy whispering voice asks patrons to turn off their cellular phones before the show, and the whispering continues throughout the production, repeating choice lines from the preceding scenes. When it becomes evident that there is no  horror aspect to the show, this becomes extremely distracting, and diminishes the energy at the end of scenes. The Dining Room 4Because of the disconnected nature of the play, the emotional flow from scene to scene is essential to keeping the show interesting, and the whispering breaks that momentum.

Another strange choice is to have the entire cast costumed in early 1900’s period wear, which causes confusion when the scenes are set in more contemporary times. When there are no visual clues as to when a scene is set, it would be extremely helpful if the clothes could reflect the shifts in some way. Instead, the actors have to deal with restrictive layers of clothing and hairstyles that oftentimes trump the comedy of the actual play. Why wig an actress when you don’t have to? And the turn of the century Snooki poof should be a no-no anytime, anyplace.

Appetite Theatre’s The Dining Room is a production in need of serious polish. The actors still need to get more comfortable in their environment if they are going to convincingly portray people that have used that dining room for years. In general, the energy of the production could be much higher, which would help bring out the chemistry between the romantic pairs while heightening the dramatic moments. If more time was spent on building actual relationships instead of odd creative decisions, The Dining Room could be a much different place.

  
  
Rating: ★★
   
   

Ensemble

The Dining Room-logoFEATURING: Jesse Aukeman, Mark Dodge, Kelly Helgeson, Betty Lorkowski, Eric Prahl & Kelly Yacono.

Design Team

LIGHTING: Kyle Anderson; SOUND: Mark Penzien; COSTUMES: Darcy Elora Hofer; STAGE MANAGEMENT: Amber Dettmers.